Just a Trim
"Arthur, you need a haircut."
Arthur looked up from his breakfast, glancing sideways through an overgrown, shaggy fringe. He looked at the scissors is Merlin's hand, then at his own reflection in the mirror on the opposite wall, then back to Merlin, focusing on the manservant's own uneven hair. The prince raised an eyebrow dubiously.
Seeing his master's misgivings, Merlin defended himself. "Not my fault. That was Gaius. For a physician, the man is a menace with a pair of scissors."
"Trust me, how hard can it be to give a haircut?"
"Don't be a prat. Just sit still."
To Merlin's surprise, Arthur submitted to the scissors without another word, finishing up his breakfast in two bites and pushing his chair back. Merlin approached warily, knowing better than to trust Arthur when he was being helpful.
Arthur winced a little, but otherwise remained still.
Shnick. Shnick shnick. Shhhnick. Shnick shnick shnick. Shnick.
For at least five minutes, there was no other sound in the room but Merlin's shears busily snipping away. The silence was just crossing over from awkward to somewhat comfortable when –
"Merlin, I know."
"Know what, sire?" Merlin said distractedly, crossing in front of Arthur and giving a critical, frustrated look to the apparently uncooperative locks, only to rearrange it into an overly cheerful grin when he noticed Arthur's glare. When the prince's expression did not shift, the smile fell. "Am I in trouble?" he asked, disappearing behind Arthur's head again. Shhhhnick.
"A bit, yeah."
Shnick shnick. "Now look, I know you told me to muck out the horses yesterday, but really, there's an entire staff of people that are paid to do that. They're called stable hands, they – "
"I know you're a sorcerer, Merlin."
A long pause.
"Arthur, you really shouldn't scare me like that when I have blades near your head. Secondly, that's really not funny. I could be executed if someone heard you say that, joking or not."
"I'm not joking, Merlin." The prince's voice was too level, which was probably a bad sign for Merlin.
"I really don't know what you're going on about – "
"I saw you, Merlin."
"Saw what? And that sounded a little weird. I'm not saying anything, but if it got out that you watch your manservant performing… undisclosed activities, there would be things implied." Merlin came back around and tried to smile, but the effect was ruined by the furrowed eyebrows and nervously twitching hands, now convulsively opening and closing the scissors on nothing at all. Shnickshnickshnick, shnickshnickshnickshnick….
Arthur kept his eyes firmly fixed on Merlin's. "Yesterday. You were polishing my armor and knocked my helmet off the table. You reached for it, and it just stopped in midair and flew back into your hand. You went on like nothing had happened."
"I don't know what you think you saw, and I barely remember what you're talking about," Merlin said, frustration working into his deceptively calm voice, "but I caught the helmet. I did not… magic your armor out of harm's way. I am not a sorcerer. I don't know if this some kind of joke, Arthur, but you've got to stop. This is Camelot. If someone overheard you – I'm a servant, my word means nothing against yours, whether you mean it or not. Your father would be furious at the mere thought of a sorcerer being so close to his only son. He wouldn't hesitate to – "
"I know what I saw!" Arthur shouted angrily.
"There was nothing to see!" Merlin responded in kind. He set down the shears on the table roughly, hands shaking, and made for the door. "I'm leaving before you land me on a pyre in the courtyard."
And to Arthur's surprise, he actually left, leaving the door half-open behind him. The prince waited a beat, eyes roving around the room in indecision, then jumped to his feet and followed the manservant.
He found Merlin at the base of the stairs, back pressed against the wall, eyes closed and chin tilted upwards, taking long, deep breaths. Arthur started toward him, realized the servant still had not noticed him, and purposefully made enough noise to draw Merlin's attention. The servant startled and leapt away from the wall, looking like a hunter's cornered quarry or, as Arthur might have said under other circumstances, a "startled stoat."
"Look, I'm – " Arthur stopped, trying to convey nonaggression as Merlin shot a terrified glance at the nearest escape route. "I shouldn't have put you on the defensive like that. I'm…" Why did the word sorry keep trying to come out? Arthur trailed off, then looked back at Merlin authoritatively. "You have a haircut to finish. I look ridiculous right now. Lopsided." He had not spared a glance for his reflection on his way out, but if it got Merlin back….
The manservant narrowed his eyes momentarily, hesitant, then took a step forward.
"Of course, sire." Merlin followed Arthur back up the stairs and picked up the scissors again, clipping mechanically. Shnick shnick shnick. Shnick. Shnick shn –
"Merlin, you know I'd never turn you in, don't you?"
Another long pause too much like the one before.
"… I'd like to hope so, sire."
Arthur turned around in his seat and looked Merlin square in the face. "Well, now you know."
Merlin nodded slowly, then finally offered a true, honest-to-goodness Merlin grin. "If I were a sorcerer, of course. Which I'm not."
"'Course not," Arthur agreed with an exaggerated nod. "That was just a stupid joke."
"As if an idiot like you could possibly be a sorcerer."
"You'd have to be quite the dollophead to think so."
"But out of curiosity, if you were a sorcerer, what would you do?"
"All sorcerers are evil, sire, and I'm not evil."
"Yeah, but if there was an exception to the rule. What would you do?"
"Same as I already do, sire. Save your royal backside."
A/N: My sister insists that this should be called "'Shnick! or, Barber-ous Confrontations over the Discovery of a Manservant's Magic.' In which both Arthur's locks and patience are shortened. A reveal fic of truly hairy proportions."
I try to pay as little attention to her as possible.
Nonetheless, I dedicate this one-shot to my dear, darling, daft sister, who is entirely responsible for introducing me to "Merlin." It's all her fault, really.
Reviewers get lovely, warm, gooey cyber-cookies straight from the little oven in my hard drive.